David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson talk The X-Files revival

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After 13 years away, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are back on the small screen. The comeback of television’s most iconic double-act has generated Roswell incident-levels of interest, excitement, and speculation. And nobody, it seems, was as surprised as Mulder and Scully themselves...

A version of this interview first appeared in Empire Magazine issue #320 (February 2016).

The first episode of the new series premiered at New York Comic-Con. What was the reception like?

David Duchovny: Well, I would say we were preaching to the choir, right? The room was filled with people heavily biased in our favour. On the other hand, though, the fans that have invested so much into the show can often be the toughest critics. To me, it played beautifully. I hadn’t seen it, either, so I was amongst the fans, watching it for the first time, and it played like a movie for me. It played huge. It felt like an event. Aside from bemoaning the fact that we had all gotten older, it was all good!

Gillian Anderson: I wasn’t there, I’d only heard. But apparently it was good. It’s quite a risky move! When I heard that’s what they were going to do, I thought: “if it’s mediocre, we are so screwed”. But people seem to be pleased – which is no small order.

Were you always on board for the new mini-series? Was it simply a question of lining everyone’s schedules up?

Duchovny: Yeah. There were many moving parts to it, but I think the pivotal thing that happened was the changing landscape of television, as opposed to movies. After the second X-Files movie did okay, but only okay, it seemed that the appetite for a third movie at Fox was lukewarm at best. Simultaneously, the whole television landscape changed. When it became obvious to all of us that we wouldn’t have to do a 24-episode season, it suddenly it became very feasible.

Anderson: When it first came into earshot, it wasn’t something that was remotely interesting to me. It took a while to convince me. It wouldn’t have been possible, even a year ago. It wasn’t until it became this small six-episode format that it became a possibility for me.

When it first came into earshot, the new series wasn’t remotely interesting to me.

What is like to play the same character for over 20 years?

Duchovny: Well, it’s an interesting proposition, and a tricky one, as an actor. We all know people for that length of time and people change. They mature. There is a certain expectation that a fictional character does not change. But you can’t go back and play him the same way. It’s almost obscene when you see people who haven’t matured, who haven’t changed, who don’t have the weight of years on them. So that’s interesting to me - to think about playing him into the future, anew.

Anderson: It doesn’t really feel like I’ve played her for over 20 years. It’s strange – on the one hand, it did feel like getting on a bicycle, and picking up where we left off. But on the other, it almost felt like she was a new person, with all this distance behind her. I felt the gap. The gap was real. It was all about reconciling the new elements with the more familiar attributes, the personality traits, the red hair...

When was the last time you watched an episode from the original series?

Anderson: I attempted to introduce my two young boys, who are now 9 and 7, to the mildest episode I could think of, which also happens to be my favourite episode - Bad Blood. They haven’t seen much of my stuff, and I thought it would be a great idea if we watched it together. But no. It was such a bad idea. They were completely freaked out! There’s a scene where this vampire pizza delivery boy shows up, and his eyes glow green, and he leaps across the room, and I found it hilarious. They, on the other hand, could not sleep. They’ve seen scary things before, but for some reason, this bloody vampire gave them nightmares for weeks. It really backfired!

Duchovny: I watched a couple before we started shooting the new series. Before that, it had been a few years, I think.

How do they hold up for you, especially the older episodes?

Duchovny: It’s a rush of memories. It’s almost like watching a home movie. I’ll see the work, and I’ll see the show, but I’ll also remember the time, and the people. I look back at the old old ones, from the beginning, and I’m kind of mortified by my acting! But I’m kind of impressed by my enthusiasm. I’m just thankful that I got to become better at what I did, and that we didn’t get cancelled in the first year.

Anderson: It almost feels like watching someone unrelated to me. It felt very, very distant. It’s a strange thing. It’s in my bones, but it’s almost as if I’m talking about a past life experience.

I look back at the old episodes, and I’m kind of mortified by my acting.

Do you have a favourite episode?

Duchovny: There’s a few. They’re really the ones that most people will name: the one with Peter Boyle is great, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose. I love the black-and-white episode, Post-Modern Prometheus. I have a soft spot for the first one I directed, the baseball one [The Unnatural] because it was the first time I ever tried directing.

Anderson: I’ve always been fond of the comedic ones - they were such fun to film. People talk about Duane Berry and Beyond The Sea and Triangle - but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. I have such a bad memory!

One of the the great strengths of The X-Files was its writers room. Did you have a favourite writer whose scripts you looked forward to?

Anderson: It was pretty clear early on that [Breaking Bad creator] Vince Gilligan was really talented. Those were always something to look forward to. Dan Morgan’s scripts were some of the funniest ones that we did, which got everybody enthused. And as time went on, and Chris relaxed a bit, he really allowed himself to be more creative and started to expand his creative grasp.

Duchovny: Vince Gilligan’s episodes were always terrific. What was great was the multiple voices. It wasn’t homogenous. Chris Carter’s great strength as a producer was to identify good writers, and let them have their voice. The X-Files was always different from week-to-week. because it had strong writers writing in their own voice, not by committee, and I think that’s what made the show great - it had a great, inclusive writers' room.

The writers' room doesn’t quite compare to the reams of X-Files fan fiction on the internet. Have you read, for example, the story where Mulder and Scully find themselves as tributes in The Hunger Games?

Anderson: I have not read any of it. I keep being reminded of it, and keep intending to read some.

Duchovny: [Laughs] I haven’t read any of it. I’m very aware of it, though. Here’s the thing: after you make a show, and you put it out into the world, the world gets to do with it what they want. And if they want to mate a frog with a rabbit, then they can do that! That’s the way it goes. That’s called creativity. For every hundred that are no good, I’m sure there’s one that’s brilliant and amazing and we wish we would have written ourselves.

One of our favourite X-Files episodes is not actually an X-Files episode - it’s that episode of The Simpsons, in which you and Gillian Anderson guest star. How was that experience?

Duchovny: Oh, man. That was brilliant. I just recorded these lines on a soundstage – it’s obviously animated much later, like a year later – so we couldn’t really react to anything, other than cues from the director, who attempted to bring the energy of whatever we were doing. But that shot, that almost iconic shot, of my character holding up my FBI badge with me in a bathing suit – that’s kind of brilliant.

Anderson: It was bizarre. David and I weren’t even in the same recording booth. And then we didn’t see anything for ages. But I love that we got to be a part of it, and that it is still held up as one of their great episodes. It’s fantastic.

There is, no doubt, a microchip in your brain that swears you to secrecy about the new series. What are you allowed to tell us?

Anderson: Only what we’ve been given permission to say... As we find Mulder and Scully, they are not a couple. They are living separately. Mulder seems to have become a bit reclusive. Scully is working in a hospital, assisting operations. Something triggers a conversation that triggers a reunion...

There are a huge amount of unanswered questions from the X-Files movies and TV show - are any of these questions answered?

Anderson: I probably wouldn’t know how to answer them, even if I was allowed to!

Duchovny: Well, I would say, in true X-Files fashion, that there are as many questions answered as there are questions raised. I think people are going to be horrified and dismayed and then thankful and grateful and happy and more... There’s too many things that people want answers to – it’s impossible to satisfy them all in six episodes.

Anderson: I think there’s definitely stuff in there that will satisfy the fans, on many levels. I don’t know what all the questions are, and I don’t know if many of them are answered, but I think enough of them are answered that the fans will be happy and left wanting more.

There are as many questions answered as there are questions raised in the new series.

Duchovny: We wanted to make this as not just a response to what we’d done, but something that stands on its own. It didn’t make sense to just come back and throw out a couple of winking allusions to the past – ”the truth is out there”, “I want to believe”, and all that, and then cash our pay cheques. We wanted to make a show that is viable today, that makes for good drama, good suspense, good thriller, good comedy, good horror, whatever it is we are. So, while I believe there is a responsibility to address stuff from the past, I also think the healthier and the cleverer and more creative and artistic venture is to take it into the present...

Is this it for The X-Files? Have there been any discussions about further series beyond this, or more movies?

Anderson: There haven’t been any discussions – at least, not discussions with the people that make the big decisions. It’s tricky. I’ve got kids, I live in London - it’s a big deal to go away for that amount of time. I don’t know. Certain things would have to fit into place to make it possible. There’s still a big question mark around it. When I jumped on board with this new series, I thought it would finally bring some closure. But as it turns out, these six episodes don’t really give closure! That doesn’t mean that it won’t be the end. But nothing is set in stone...

The new series of The X-Files airs on Fox in the US in January and on Channel 5 in the UK in February.